Inspired by the past

A vintage spirit surrounds Donna Castelluccio.

It’s sensed even before you meet the Pawling artist, glimpsed in her mixed-media work displayed online. There, you can see fabric-based creations filled with old-time images ranging from a glamorous flapper to a sweet little baby wearing a puffy white gown.

We are intrigued, so we arrange to meet and tour Castelluccio’s studio, which turns out to be the heart of a fairytale setting — a yellow cottage nestled in the woods — that we visit on a recent afternoon.

The home-based studio is a wonderland of works, some in progress, others finished, with fabrics, laces and countless decorative elements at every turn.

Tying it all together is her eye — and her aesthetic.

“It’s not all ‘vintage,’” Castelluccio says with a laugh, noting how the term has been co-opted of late. “Vintage is like 10 years old now.”

While she may incorporate a piece of contemporary fabric, evidenced in a boldly graphic wall hanging, the bulk of her creations are imbued with a retro appeal.

Castelluccio, a lifelong artist, says her fabric collages date back some eight years, when she began integrating her painting with stenciling, paper collage and fabric in new work.

The retired nurse, who is originally from Long Island, came from an artistic family.

“My grandmother, her whole family, they were sculptors,” she says, noting she herself was involved in all kinds of crafts from an early age. For some 20 years, she would sell work such as wreaths and herbal creations at local shows and, for a time, had an herb shop nearby.

Today, she focuses on fabric collages, with themes ranging from fairies to accessories, burlesque beauties to sewing notions.

“It seems to be the 1920s  (that) I’m drawn to,” she says of her favorite era.

There is more, though, including some stunning abstract work, such a study in blue hues and textures that artfully evokes a sense of water.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

For Castelluccio, materials are key.

“I have bins of fabrics that I like to look through,” she says. “When I have to pick, I go through my bins.”

Her hunting grounds for her materials include thrift stores and estate sales, but “now everybody’s just giving me stuff. Everyone’s just happy to get rid of their stuff.”

Condition isn’t always at a premium. In her hands, broken vintage jewelry or a stained stretch of fabric can be repurposed.

That combination of respect for the past and the vision to reinterpret it is what Castelluccio’s art is all about.

She says while she knows she is giving new life to old things — “I do cut up lots” — she does do it in a thoughtful manner.

Sometimes, though, finds are too special to alter.

“Some stuff, I don’t touch,” she says. “I want to leave it.”

That’s when she creates her larger works that include elements such as gloves, handkerchiefs and brooches as “just a way to showcase” the treasures of the past.

“It kind of preserves it whole.”

Even Castelluccio’s methods combine the old and new.

She hunts Pinterest for copyright-free images, printing them out and transferring them onto muslin.  Her signature fabric books are generally 12 pages, creations that feature those main images surrounded by accent fabrics and notions. Some sewing is involved, but most of the work is done with glue.

The results are striking and one of a kind. But they’re not created one at a time.

“I usually have multiple projects going,” she says. An example is a quilt she has in its earliest stages that incorporates vintage handkerchiefs, while nearby, a commission is underway, a fabric book being made in homage to a 1980s television show “Beauty and the Beast.”

Castelluccio is always creating, with the early bird often getting an early start.

“I guess I’m most creative early in the morning,” she says, noting that’s when the ideas come to her. “Putting it together, I can do later in the day.”

Castelluccio’s work ranges from the fabric books and wall hangings to purses, tote bags, embellished jackets and jewelry. Other designs include fabric-covered notebooks and shadow boxes and assemblages, where elements range from old bottles to candles to assorted natural finds.

Castelluccio has been known to dye her own fabrics and with such a wealth of materials might pull out something sourced years ago or more recently, such as the bag of lace found “at the Stormville flea market for $20. I couldn’t leave it there.

“I have a fabric obsession, which I never knew I had before,” she says.

And, she adds with a laugh, it still surprises her:  “I know at one point I absolutely hated doilies.”

SHARING HER WORK

Castelluccio says she plans to keep doing what she does — and sharing the art by selling more of the work that fills so much of her studio and home.

“If something sells, then I can make something else,” she says with a laugh.

She has recently participated in the
ArtEast Open Studio Tour, exhibited at the Trolley Barn art studio in Poughkeepsie, shown work at the Akin Free Library in Pawling and exhibited and taught a class at the New York Public Library in Manhattan. This month, she joins more than 70 other regional artists and artisans at the Dutchess Handmade holiday pop-up shop in Poughkeepsie.

Though she works continually, Castelluccio says it’s rare her work is planned down to every last detail. Instead, it’s left up to serendipity — and classic artistic inspiration.

As Castelluccio says, “I like to look through my bins and see what the pieces say to me.”

Donna Castelluccio’s work is featured through Dec. 21 at Dutchess Handmade at Arts Mid-Hudson, 696 Dutchess Turnpike, Poughkeepsie. For more, visit artsmidhudson.org. For more on Castelluccio, email her at donna.castelluccio@gmail.com or visit her on Facebook. Her work is also featured on Etsy through the Shabby Chicster Studio shop.

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